Pliny the Younger

PLINY THE YOUNGER. Full name, Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus. Proconsul of Pontus and Bithynia and persecutor of the Christians there.

The nephew and adopted son of the anthologist and natural historian Pliny the Elder, he was born in a.d. 61 or 62 at Como. He was a student of the famous rhetorician, Quintillian, and gained fame early as a lawyer, esp. in disputes concerning property. In later years he figured prominently in a number of criminal trials. He became successively tribune of the people, prefect of the treasury, consul, proconsul, and augur.

Nine books of his correspondence are extant. They deal with affairs of the years 97-109. Although they were heavily rewritten for publication, they give a clear picture of life among the aristocracy in imperial Rome. The author emerges as a kind and generous man who is nonetheless sometimes superstitious and cruel, esp. when dealing with persons of lower status. The tenth book of the letters was addressed to the emperor Trajan and concerns the administration of the province of Bithynia. A lengthy letter (10. 97) was written in regard to the handling of Christians there. It was followed by a short reply from the emperor. Pliny complained that the temples were empty because so many had turned to the excessive but otherwise harmless superstition. By torture and threat he learned that they met before dawn, sang a hymn to God and one to Christ, pledged not to commit any wickedness, and then joined in a common feast. Since he could find no further wrong with the Christians, he suspended legal action until advised by the emperor. Trajan commended Pliny’s action and added that no specific instruction could be given. He advised him not to search for suspected persons nor should he accept anonymous accusations. If they were accused and convicted lawfully, they should be punished unless they denied the charge of being Christians and authenticated it by calling on the gods of Rome.

Bibliography

M. Schuster in Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. “Plinius 6.”